Senate Democratic leaders have enough votes to keep Republicans from blocking a floor debate on legislation intended to curb gun violence, a leadership aide said today.
A group of Republican senators said they won’t join an effort by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and other party members to prevent debate.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that we would not move forward with debate and amendments on an issue that’s so important to the American people,” said Arizona Republican John McCain.
Joining McCain in saying they wouldn’t block debate were Senators Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine.
Senate Democratic leaders want to start debate this week on a measure to crack down on gun trafficking, increase funding for school safety and require more gun purchasers to undergo background checks. The legislation was proposed after 20 children and six adults were killed Dec. 14 in a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Democrats are negotiating with Republicans to gain support for a provision to expand background checks for gun purchasers.
The Democratic leadership aide who spoke anonymously wasn’t authorized to discuss strategy and vote counts. Sixty votes are required to cut off debate in the Senate, where 55 votes are currently controlled by Democrats.
Fourteen Republican senators, including McConnell, said they would seek to block the Democratic legislation. A few Democrats said they may join that effort.
President Barack Obama is campaigning to keep momentum going for what’s left of the gun-control measures he proposed after the shootings in Newtown.
His call to revive a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and to limit ammunition-magazine capacity have encountered opposition from the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun-rights lobby, and its allies in Congress. Those proposals were excluded from the Senate bill and will be offered as amendments, which stand little chance of adoption.
Relatives of victims of the Newtown massacre flew to Washington last night on Air Force One with the president to press lawmakers for action.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Toomey, a Republican, are discussing a plan that would expand the background-check requirement to cover gun sales over the Internet and private sales at gun shows, according to an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. It would exempt private person-to-person sales, the aide said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today in an interview that he plans for an amendment on background checks to be first to get a vote if the bill reaches the floor.
“I’m hoping that there will be some agreement between Manchin and Toomey or Kirk and that that would be the first amendment,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat, referring to Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Democrats Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they are considering whether to join the Republicans seeking to block the bill.
Baucus, facing re-election next year, said, “The vast majority of Montanans have a long adherence to the Second Amendment,” the constitutional guarantee of a right to bear arms.
Mandatory background checks for gun purchasers are supported by 91 percent of the public, including 96 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of gun- owning households, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted March 27-April 1.
In the Newtown massacre, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 students and six educators. Court documents show he brought 10 30-round ammunition magazines into the school, reloaded six times and fired 154 bullets from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle called a Bushmaster.
An estimated 6.6 million guns are sold each year without background checks because current law doesn’t require them for private gun sales, including those at gun shows, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The group is led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Democrats want to require background checks for almost all gun sales. They also are seeking to mandate recordkeeping on background checks, which law enforcement officials say is needed to enforce the checks and trace weapons used in crimes.
NRA President David Keene has maintained that universal background checks could lead to “forced buybacks” or door-to- door confiscation of weapons by the government. The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA claims 4 million members.
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